Sept. 25, 2005 – "There are some people who are not pleased with us coming there," Dr. Chenzira Kherishetapheru said about a planned march to show solidarity for the Frett family of St. John. Stressing non-violence and "keeping our focus on the issues," Kherishetapheru told the crowd of more than 70 people, "If you don't support us and you don't think racial injustice in a problem in St. John, then this is not the march for you."
St. Croix organizers of the Oct. 1 protest march in St. John outlined their intentions on Sunday in a two-hour meeting held at the Sion Farm ballpark in Christiansted. The group, dubbed We the People for Justice on Contract Day, will be heading over to St. John on Oct. 1 and have scheduled a march, rally for Saturday and open discussion forums on that island through Oct. 9.
The root of the protest stems from a series of alleged hate crimes reported by the Fretts, a black family on St. John. According to the family, confrontations between Ester Frett, who formerly owned The House of Dolls in Cruz Bay and white storeowner, began around April 2003 and came to a head on June 30 when Frett was shoved by the storeowner who was subsequently arrested. On Aug. 30, news spread around the islands that Ester Frett had been kidnapped, raped and assaulted. The FBI was called in to investigate the incident. (See "FBI Called in to Investigate Possible Hate Crime").
The "Stopping Hate Crimes in the VI: Solidarity with the Frett Family and Others" march and rally begins at 10 a.m. from Cruz Bay port to the Winston Wells Ballpark followed by a rally. At 4 p.m. there will be a motorcade to Coral Bay where organizers hope to stage a bonfire in commemoration of the 1848 Fireburn. Organizers said police permits have been secured for all events except for the bonfire.
The group is linking the planned events in St. John to local historical events of Oct. 1, 1878 when indentured servants protested low wages and their inability to travel freely from one estate to another by staging an uprising later known as the Fireburn. Oct. 1, known as Contract Day, was the only day workers were allowed off their assigned plantations under the Provisional Labor Act of 1848 imposed by the colonial Danish government.
"From Hurricane Hole to Cruz Bay, our people need to feel comfortable going from one side of the island to another," Kherishetapheru told the crowd.
Ras Lumumba, who conducts nature tours on St. Croix, questioned why permits have not been issued for the bonfire. "It is our culture [to have a Fireburn]. We have been doing it and there has been no problem." Several St. Croix organizations including the St. Croix Farmers in Action traditionally host bonfires on St. Croix. Organizers said they would continue to appeal to the police department to issue a permit for the bonfire.
"If anyone should have fear is it us. We are going into their yard," Carl Christopher, St. Croix businessman said. He said he attended several meeting in St. John and St. Thomas with other organizers. Christopher said there is a wide gap between the prosperous and the poor of St. John. "All they are concerned with is their business and the money in their pocket," Christopher said
"My concerns are the same concerns you have and the burden of the safety falls on my shoulders," said Police Sgt. Winsbut McFarlande, commander of the street enforcement team (SET) who was present at the afternoon meeting. Commissioner Elton Lewis assigned McFarlande was to assist St. Thomas/St. John police at the march and rally. McFarlande urged the crowd to "police yourselves" and not allow any distractions to distract their focus. It doesn't matter what color your skin is, if you violate the law, you will deal with me," he said. McFarlande said he would be traveling to St. John with 12 officers to augment the police coverage. The group will have a final planning meeting with police officials on Tuesday.
Gonzalo Rivera, another organizer, said the St. John events might have national coverage. He said letters have been sent to the NAACP, Rainbow Push Coalition and to Rev. Al Sharpton. "We have not received any confirmations but we are hoping that some of them will be there." Gonzalez said someone who has ties to the Final Call, a publication of the Nation of Islam, would report on the events.
The St. Croix group plans to travel to St. John by boat on Saturday, however they declined to name the boat company, only saying that it was not a company out of St. John. Talk show host Mario Moorhead, said people in St. John "with money" offered boat companies more money not to take the Crucians to St. John.
In addition to the mach and rally the group will be conducting open forums on racism, domestic violence and economic disparity.
"The St. Johnians have been silenced by fear," Kherishetapheru said, adding that groups from Tortola and Puerto Rico would participate in the march and rally on St. John.
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